Viewpoint: Helen Sanders

Sage Electrochromics exec discusses the benefits of dynamic glazing ... and who she'd most like to have dinner with
As told to Max Perilstein
November 15, 2010

In an interview with Glass Magazine contributor Max Perilstein, chief marketing officer for Vitro America, Memphis, Helen Sanders, vice president of Technical Business Development for Sage Electrochromics, Faribault, Minn., discusses the benefits of dynamic glazing and her concerns for the industry going forward.




Max Perilstein: First, a softball: how did your company get its name?

Helen Sanders: Interestingly enough, the origin of the name dates back 20 years to the formation of the company. An architect at Princeton University and friend of our president and founder, John Van Dine, initially came up with the name Sun Active Glass Electrochromics. After a while, we shortened it to Sage Electrochromics, which is how we are known today.

MP: So, pitch me on your best product. I'm a building owner. Why do I put your material in my structure?

HS: SageGlass glazing enhances the human experience in the built environment and will change the way building owners think about glass in their buildings. It is glass that is electronically tintable; it can be transitioned from a high visible light transmission state to a deeply tinted state — stopping at points in between — by the push of a button or via a building's energy management system. You can enjoy the sun's benefits while effectively managing its undesirable effects such as annoying glare, excessive heat gain and destructive fading, all without losing the view and connection to the outdoors. That is actually a common misunderstanding about our product: it does not turn opaque, it just becomes highly tinted when needed to block the heat and glare while still allowing you to see through it.

All this sounds great to a building owner, but one of the obvious questions an owner has is: "what's the cost?" When compared to the total solution of traditional methods of controlling sunlight — low-E glass, sun-control products such as exterior sunshades or louvers and mechanized shades or blinds, plus the additional HVAC equipment required — Sage's products are already 'first cost' competitive. We are winning projects on this basis, and the cost comparison will become increasingly more compelling when we bring on line our new high volume manufacturing facility. Because our product is made using the same low-cost, large-area vacuum sputtering process that is used today to make millions of square feet of low-E coatings and insulating glass, with manufacturing efficiencies and scale come increasingly lower prices.

MP: What surprises you about the glass and glazing industry?

HS: I don't know whether this surprises me, but what I really love about the glass industry is the sense of community. I especially notice it on the technical side of the business, where experts from all corners of the industry come together and collaborate to develop best practices, standards and reference materials for the industry and its customers. There are always many people happy to offer advice, help and provide support for each other during difficult times.

MP: Fun question. Name two people — dead or alive — you would want to have dinner with and why.

HS: I have a pretty long list of people who I'd want to meet, including the likes of Winston Churchill, Hillary Clinton (no matter what your politics, I think she is an amazing woman, and apparently quite witty by all accounts), Peter Drucker, Thomas Friedman (Hot, Flat and Crowded is a tremendous book), plus some obscure English sports personalities that only a Brit would know. But Bill and Melinda Gates are my top draft picks. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a tremendous capability to make big changes in both education and health in the U.S. and throughout the world. I am passionate about education and the need to improve how we educate our children in order to compete in tomorrow's global economy, and these guys have the resources and the business acumen to make a difference!

MP: What is your biggest worry about our industry going forward?

HS: I fear that as an industry we will not be active enough in the code, regulatory and policy space, and that the glazing industry's market size will be hurt because of that. We need to be more proactive in getting involved as an industry in influencing policy and codes. Other industries have a considerable focus on influencing in these areas; ASHRAE is one of those organizations that come to mind. Up to this point, the glass industry — with some notable exceptions at the individual company level — has been less involved in these areas, and we have recently found ourselves disadvantaged as a result. We need to keep our eye on this ball as the regulatory environment is going to shape our businesses going forward in a significant way.

MP: Your technology at work is really cool and advanced. Do you do anything "old school" in your life, like write checks for bills or read the actual physical version of the newspaper?

HS: Oh yes! I haven't yet worked out how to read a newspaper or magazine efficiently from a computer screen. I get the paper copy of The Wall Street Journal every day and the Economist weekly. I guess that confirms that I am definitely a Gen-Xer and not from the Gen-Y or Millennium generation.

MP: What would you tell a person getting out of college right now that wants to join this industry?

HS: Get the right skills and keep them up-to-date. Make sure that you have the key tools in your tool kit for developing lean and high quality processes, both on and off the production floor. Stay ahead of the curve. Understand where the business environment is heading — and be part of it. Be prepared to embrace new technologies in products or business processes, look outside our industry to adopt and adapt as appropriate best practices, be innovative with products and services and be ready to keep changing. As General Eric Shinseki said, "If you dislike change, you are going dislike irrelevance even more."